Monday, April 30, 2012

How Do Regulations Affect Wilmington?

A few months ago or so, the Wilmington City Council hired a consultant, yet again. This time it was to tell them how to improve the "development process", meaning they paid someone $23k to tell them just how much the planning and zoning department is a tyrannical bureaucracy.

Of course, it would have benefited members of City Council to actually look into this themselves, but instead someone looked into it for them, and now we have this report.

What does it say? 

Recommendation #1: Hire a new person. Not fire anyone. Not give deadlines where if no action is taken on something it's automatically approved. Hire a new person.

They say this is necessary to essentially "change the culture" within the department.

The department already has a head. Should this kind of responsibility not go to the department head?

Additionally, from what I've heard, the city planning and code enforcement staff are real ballbusters, especially downtown.  Of course, the people who create this kind of atmosphere are never addressed.  The "solution" is to simply add another layer of bureaucracy that could be just as hostile as what's already there.

What about how quickly the city approves projects?
"There is certainly an issue with timeliness and timeliness is a two way street," Michelle Ferguson, associate of The Novak Consulting Group, said during a presentation of the findings to council at an agenda briefing Monday. Some of the lag has to do with insufficient submittal of site plans, the study found. 
Mayor Bill Saffo said several projects are taking six to eight months to get through the review process.
Ahhh, you have to love the understatement of Bill Saffo, especially when it benefits him.  Does it really take just six to eight months?

Let's take a look at part of an article that describes how long it took for The View to get approval downtown. For those of you who don't know, The View would have been where we now have our "wall of keys", the city's most appalling eyesore.
A lot has changed since 2006 when architects started drawing plans for The View. Terry Espy, managing partner and project developer, said it took three years to get the needed permits. The land, which has all the needed permits and has been released for construction from the city, now sits vacant as the economic tornado hit that project too.
Three years, folks. That's a lot more than six months, which is still too much. With some projects, like the Gateway project, they simply stifle it for years until the developers go bankrupt.

Additionally, what Saffo is saying is that he knows about this but he's doing nothing.  He's presenting himself as if he's helpless, when in reality he could actually be the most important figure in city government (no offense, Sterling.)

Finally, at the end of the story, we get actual figures about how terrible our city is in terms of facilitating development:
In the study, which included a survey of more than 57 stakeholders, 67 percent of those in the community who responded said the process doesn't result in higher quality development, 62 percent say it doesn't compare favorably with other communities and 85 percent said the current regulations hinder development.
Upset you don't have a job? Your kid or your friend doesn't have a job? Upset you don't have a nice place to shop or relax?  Talk to the Wilmington planning and development department.

Of course, don't talk to the Wilmington City Council, because we all know it's not them who's actually in charge of the city government.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Government Lobbying Government?

Yes, folks, that is the next great "economic development" idea out of our brilliant Mayor Bill Saffo.

In other news to come out of the agenda brief, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said he'd like council to consider hiring a lobbyist for both Raleigh and Washington, D.C. Saffo says the need has increased in recent years.
Yes, folks, government lobbying government. Does merely reading it not make you feel disgusting? What ever happened to lean, efficient government? Now it's pigs feeding at the troph. Never forget that all federal and state dollars still come ultimately from the taxpayers.

But what's the truly amazing thing about this?

Wilmington already has a lobbyist. It is Ms. Lawless Bean, whose real first name apparently is Mary. I don't know why she goes by "Lawless." Maybe because she's employed by the Wilmington government.

I've also heard that we're the only city of our size to have a lobbyist up in Raleigh. And now Bill Saffo wants to send another one to D.C.? You've got to be kidding.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

$1.1M for Recycling Bins That Tell on You?

Were you aware that Wilmington authorized $1.1M for new recycling bins? If you're a close reader of the local news, chances are you were.

Were you aware that these recycling bins will be outfitted with rfid chips? Chances are you weren't. Only the StarNews mentioned it and they mentioned it very briefly.

However, it's true and clearly stated in the supplemental documents for the last City Council meeting:

Each of the roll-out carts will have a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip which will allow us to collect and maintain data regarding the carts’ use, location, and to target outreach efforts in specific sections of the City.
Additionally, City dump trucks are going to be outfitted with readers for these rfid chips. The cost will be about $81k.

What are these going to be used for? Well, if you're familiar with the City of Wilmington you're aware that the answer is probably: "no good".

Let's take a look at how they've been used in other places.

Cleveland Plain Dealer:

It would be a stretch to say that Big Brother will hang out in Clevelanders' trash cans, but the city plans to sort through curbside trash to make sure residents are recycling -- and fine them $100 if they don't. The move is part of a high-tech collection system the city will roll out next year with new trash and recycling carts embedded with radio frequency identification chips and bar codes.

The chips will allow city workers to monitor how often residents roll carts to the curb for collection. If a chip show a recyclable cart hasn't been brought to the curb in weeks, a trash supervisor will sort through the trash for recyclables.

Trash carts containing more than 10 percent recyclable material could lead to a $100 fine, according to Waste Collection Commissioner Ronnie Owens. Recyclables include glass, metal cans, plastic bottles, paper and cardboard.

[S]ome cities are using RFID tags to penalize those who don’t recycle. Earlier this summer, Laurel, Md. began using RFID bins to enforce $25-100 fines for houses not using their bins. All bins are linked to an address, and the city requires recycling participation.

It's my guess that this is exactly the kind of thing that Wilmington has in mind.

Is this a good idea? Is recycling even "environmental friendly"? Of course not. Take a closer look at the facts:

"Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America." (Originally NY Times)

It's another scam. And it's going to wind up costing you more and more.